Going vegan for January? Try these vegan wines.

‘And do you have any special dietary requirements?’, said the nurse at my local surgery when I went to get my New Year health MOT.  I was puzzled.  Had the NHS decided to run a take-away pizza place to complement its prescription service?

‘No,’ I replied.  ‘Why do you ask?’  ‘We just want to know whether you are restricting your diet in any way.  It helps us assess your health.  So many people have gone vegan recently, we thought that we should keep track of the trends.’

Vegan has indeed become mainstream with fast-food outlets and supermarkets now offering vegan alternatives to their meaty products.  But why should wine come into this discussion?  Grapes are fruit and wine is made from fruit.  Surely all wine is vegan?

Not exactly.

The process of making wine from grapes is very simple.  Crush the grapes, ferment them with yeast (which is vegan) and bottle the product.  This process is absolutely fine so long as you like cloudy wine.  Grapes are more than just sugar and water.  They have proteins, pectin, antioxidants, tannins and colouring matter and these don’t just disappear at the end of fermentation.  Sometimes they hang around in the wine in a haze which doesn’t do you any harm but it means that the wine you buy won’t look clean and bright in the bottle.  They may also settle into a sludge at the bottom of the bottle when you store it at home.

If you want it bright and see-through then you need to clarify your wine, in just the same way that my gran used to clarify the fabulous stock she made into her signature consommé soup.  She used egg whites which collected all the hazy stuff and left the stock bright.  In much the same way, top châteaux still mix up a few egg whites and add them to each barrel.  The egg whites form a blanket which sinks through the wine, collecting up the cloudy bits.  That’s no problem for a small amount of wine, but for large quantities in a big tank, they would be whisking eggs all day.  Egg whites mean that the wine is not vegan, and the same goes for other substances used to clarify wine.  Gelatine, isinglass (sourced from fish) and casein (from milk) all do the same job in clarifying wine, but cannot be used for vegan wine.

One substance that can be used for vegan wines is bentonite which is a fine powery clay that they dig out of the ground in Wyoming. It is totally inert and once added to wine, it sinks to the bottom of the tank and is taken out again, with all the cloudy bits sticking to it.  There are also plant-based gelatine substitutes now in use but one of the easiest ways to clarify your wine is to let it clear over winter.  For inexpensive wine this really isn’t an option since fresh wines have to keep moving to get to market.  So vegan wines are clarified using non-animal products and they usually declare their credentials on the back label with a V signature.

Supermarkets are now very keen to show which of their wines are made to vegan standards. I have tasted through dozens of these wines and here is my selection of the best.

Whites

Terra Sana Organic Sauvignon Blanc 2018, Gascony, France, Aldi £6.99

Fresh and zippy with lemon and lime fruit and a minerally finish.  Perfect with salads.

La Fortezza Vermentino 2018, Sicily, Italy, Marks and Spencer £7

Terrific quality and value from Sicily where Vermentino grapes develop herb-scented, crisp Granny Smith apple and lively citrus notes.

Finest Gavi 2018, Piedmont, Italy, Tesco £8.50

Light and lemony with green, leafy flavours and a twist of herbs. Team alongside a rocket and sweet potato salad.

Laurent Miquel Vendanges Noctures Viognier, Pays d’Oc 2018, Waitrose £9.39

Packed with peach and apricot notes with zippy freshness which comes from picking Viognier grapes in the cool of the night.  Good with butternut squash recipes.

Viñalta Chardonnay 2018, Mendoza, Argentina, Marks and Spencer £9

Made from grapes grown at high altitude to keep the flavours fresh and vibrant, and there is no oak in this wine, so the melon and peach fruit can shine out.  Crisp, rounded and stylish and perfect alongside spiced roasted cauliflower.

Taste the Difference Royal Tokai Dry Furmint 2017, Hungary, Sainsbury £10, currently on offer at £8.50 until 21 January

Tokaji is normally associated with Hungary’s fabulous sweet wines but now this region now makes fabulous dry wines with notes of honeysuckle, peach and herbs, shot through with lip-smacking citrus and a streak of minerally freshness.

Reds

Bulgarian Merlot 2018, Thracian Lowlands, Tesco £4.50

Terrific value in this soft, juicy, plum and bramble-filled wine. It goes well with a spicy bean chilli non carne.

Waitrose and Partners Marselan 2017, Méditerranée, France, Waitrose £6.99

Soft fruity aromas with summer pudding flavours and a touch of prunes, this is savoury and long.  Try it with a veggie casserole.

Valpolicella Valpantena 2018, Italy, Marks and Spencer £7.50

Soft with cherry-filled quaffing fruit.  Enjoy this on its own or with a tomato and olive salad.

NOW by Paxton Organic Shiraz 2018, McLaren Vale, Australia, Aldi £8.99

Wine generally can’t be totally sulphur-free because the yeast create some of their own during fermentation, but this wine has no added sulphur which allows all that gorgeous, dark plum fruit to shine out.  Juicy and soft, this is one to team with a spicy vegetable curry.

Finca Constantia Organic Tempranillo Moon Wine 2017, Spain, Sainsbury £10

Bright with red cherry fruit with a savoury backbone and enough depth to cope with an aubergine and lentil bake.

Waitrose and Partners No.1 Reserva Rioja 2015, Spain, Waitrose £12.99

Serious, elegant Rioja with savoury, strawberry fruit and a gentle structure.  Team this alongside a quinoa and black bean chilli.

About The Author

Christine Austin

Christine is a wine writer, broadcaster and a wine judge for several international wine competitions. She has a technical background and spent five years as a buyer for a major supermarket before moving to wine writing.She writes for The Yorkshire Post Magazine and organises the York Festival of Food and Drink. She has won both the Lanson and the Roederer prizes for wine writing.

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